A new reader came by these parts yesterday, searching for posts on sibling loss. It brought into focus for me the fact that I do not write much about Helen these days. I used to write about Helen a lot, now I write about Leila a lot. Well, I don’t write a lot of anything really, but when I do, it’s pretty much omniLeila (new word there, think it’s going to be HUGE).
That doesn’t mean that Helen is further from my thoughts. It’s just that having a baby is massively diverting- nay, consuming– and takes up around 99% of my immediate headspace. But beyond that immediacy which a baby commands, a whole reservoir of thought and feeling still swirls at a slower, more contemplative pace . Much of this is still taken up with Helen. For some reason I feel- or maybe, have imposed- a tension between the unstoppable fiesta of joy that is Leila’s presence in my life, and the dark, deep stillness that is Helen’s absence.
It’s the guilty burden of the bereaved. Am I allowed to feel happy? Is it decent for the corners of my soul to be filled with a quite blinding floodlight of joy, where once they dried and curled? Can I be at once broken and stuck back together, and shiny and whole? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I sense that the answer isn’t to shout in peoples’ faces “I’M STILL SAD YOU KNOW!”, as I sometimes feel the urge to do.
On the other hand, it’s easy to wonder whether, in mourning my sister, I’m cheapening the happiness I’ve found. Should Leila’s birth draw a line under our grief? Is it time to count our blessings in gleaming stacks, instead of keeping our eyes on the gutter, watching the coins of what we had drop down and disappear? Some might assume that Leila being here should heal the wound of losing Helen.
But of course is doesn’t. Leila is not a replacement for our beloved Helen (though it’s quite uncanny to me how similar Leila is to Helen as a baby- holla to the original goblin face!). I don’t owe it to Leila to forget about Helen. And I don’t owe it to Helen to feel any less bombastic about Leila. They’d both be horrified by the idea- if Helen were here, and if Leila had developed the consciousness to be horrified, that is.
Helen’s death made me sadder than I had ever known. Leila’s birth made me happier than I thought possible. I’m still sad, and I’m still happy. I’m living my life in yellows and blues. It’s not easy, but it’s colourful.